King Maha Vajiralongkorn has signed a new constitutional document in Bangkok with paves the way for a return to democracy in Thailand while still allowing the army to have an influential role in politics.
The document commits government to follow the 20-year development plan outlined by the military and also constrains future elected governments by making them answerable to an appointed senate.
Though ground-breaking in many ways critics claim the new constitution will only allow for a partial, guided democracy and that the army will still have too much power in politics.
Approved by referendum last year the royal sign-off was delayed as King Vajiralongkorn – who succeeded his father as King of Thailand last year – requested changes to restore some significant areas of royal influence.
The changes include the removal of an allowance for the constitutional court to call a meeting in the event of a political crisis and a requirement for the king to appoint a regent whenever he leaves the country. As King Vajiralongkorn has a son at a school in Germany he often spends time there but clearly has no wish to name an assigned ruler in his absence.
The previous constitution was abolished after a military coup three years ago. This was the continuation of a tradition of military intervention in politics as the military has seized power 12 times since the absolute monarchy came to an end in 1932.
This new constitution will be the 20th in Thailand’s modern history. Though the introduction of a new constitution is usually introduced with little fanfare the king requested an elaborate ceremony to signal his royal approval.
In the face of the new constitution Thailand’s military generals have asserted the need to impose limits on the democratic practice as a preventative measure to avoid the need for future military coups.
Elections have been delayed but are expected to follow next year and the military has made a promise not to intervene.